Thursday, August 3, 2006
The holocaust that happened here
Did you know that in Marshall County 150 years ago that there was a foundry that produced beautiful ironwork? The ironwork is visible around the square over the windows as decorative friezes on the older buildings. Exquisite iron fences are all over town that were made at the foundry and you can identify them as works of art compared to later fences.
The foundry also produced farm implements, supplies and buggy and wagon parts and barbed wire of all sorts. We have a piece at the Museum that was made in a one-piece mold. The foundry was quite useful to the community.
The name was Jones, McElwaine & Company and they manufactured ironwork that was on the Moresque Building in New Orleans, which was magnificent. Imagine an iron building that looked like black lace. They sold their products all over the South.
When Mississippi seceded from the Union on January 11, 1862, the Foundry became the Armory and it primarily was involved in repairing guns for the Confederacy. It manufactured a few bronze cannons, of which there are no known examples. We know the whereabouts of two guns.
We lost this industry early in October of 1862, as the owners of the iron business realized that the northern Army was 20 miles north in Tennessee and headed this way fast. In October of 1862, they picked up and moved to Macon, Ga., where they were in business until a few years ago.
It is very unusual that here within the city limits of Holly Springs there would be a foundry. Where did they get the iron ore? Was it shipped in when the railroad came into being in 1857? The foundry was located parallel to the Illinois Central Railroad that connected the North with the South. Or is it possible that we had streaks of iron ore in our rock-less soil? (Mississippi has fewer rocks than any other state except for Louisiana, which has practically none.)
An ironworker from Ohio married and moved to Holly Springs in 1857 to build this factory. He and his family lived in town, attended our churches, his children attended our schools. While here they had a new baby boy. Years later the boy baby’s granddaughter from Colombia, South America came to the Museum to find out why her ancestor was from Ohio and the baby was born in the small town of Holly Springs in Mississippi.
After the War (when War begins with a capital “W” that denotes “War Between the States”) this family moved to Colombia in South America, which was just opening up to settlers in 1867. He attained a 4000-acre plantation on the northwestern corner of Colombia bordering the Pacific Ocean. The family still owns and lives there today. Of course, they also have a house in New York City.
Back to Holly Springs; Wiley P. Jones, McElwaine, E. G. Barney and Howard Athey built the foundry. They were incorporated with a stock of $50,000 to manufacture wood, iron, woolen and cotton yarns and other fabrics and firearms. Mrs. McElwaine made us nationally famous in that century, as she was known as the best woman welder in the country.
She recalled how she used to assist in pouring out the ladles of metal into the molds. The foundry consisted of three buildings, each 200 feet long and employed approximately 200 people at the beginning of the War. The buildings were deserted when U.S. Grant’s Army moved here on November 2, 1862, so the northern army took the buildings and equipped them for a hospital.
It had planned to be open on December 21, 1862, however on December 20, 1862, Confederate General Earl Van Dorn arrived and there was no one in the building and the southerners blew up everything with “Yankee” on it, including the foundry-armory.
All that was left of the three buildings were the floor patterns of bricks in the herringbone pattern. When I walked over it, I wanted to save it and have it for a Confederate Park, similar to Jamestown, as all that was left of Jamestown were floor foundations, just like here.
However, the site was destroyed although the bulldozer didn’t run over me when I was in front of it trying to save it. My protest didn’t work. This was where the first arms of the Confederacy were put together and it would have been a real draw to Civil War historians.
In the yard close to the railroad was the foundry pond. It was rather big and it was the swimming hole of all the town boys on the east side of town. There was a pond on the west side of town for the boys over there.
Unfortunately, someone drowned in the foundry pond. Tom Rylee recovered the body and the drowned person was in a swimmer’s position as rigor mortis had set in. Consequently the pond was destroyed as they considered it an attractive nuisance.
The foundry-armory story didn’t surface until Senator Wall Doxey got to Washington and he discovered what had happened here. Two 14-year-old boys, Wilson Golden and Mahon Jones, took an interest in history in 1962, a hundred years after the holocaust, and would go there to dig and discover. A metal detector goes haywire over that ground as there are a million iron fragments in the earth there and none of them are valuable. But all are interesting as they are all that is left of a hellacious holocaust that happened here.
Examples in town of the products manufactured here are the porch of Cedarhurst, the fence around Airliewood, the courthouse fence around Fleur de Lys, the fence around Fort Daniel and Gray Gables.
There are multiple iron mantles on many houses all over town that were made here.
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